Thread: Shenmue III
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Old 07-07-2015, 04:22 PM   #23
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Originally Posted by deoxys View Post
Talon, what are your thoughts on the cost of the project? Numerous game podcasts I listen to (Giant Bomb's and Co-Optional, to be specific) have pointed out the cost of the original Shenmue games back 15 years ago compared to the $4.5M that Shenmue 3 has so far and the cost gap is huge. Do you have faith that Sony can adequately provide enough funding to bring Shenmue 3 up to the standards that it deserves, especially taking into account the 15 year difference in funding and inflation difference? If they don't fund ~$50M into the project, what do you feel would be the minimum that Shenmue 3 would need to live up to it's legacy? Could Yu Suzuki successfully pull it off with <$20M if he had to?

Curious about what you think.
The Old Budget: The short answer is, "It depends who you talk to and what spin they're going for." For starters, SEGA has long said that it cost $70 million to make Shenmue -- it's even in the Guinness Book of World Records -- but Yu Suzuki has in recent years claimed that it only cost $45 million to make. And not even just make -- Suzuki claims that advertisement and publishing costs were in that $45 million too, whereas SEGA's number is spun as the cost of development alone in some writings. So who's right? Hell if I know. I hate to say it, much as I love Suzuki-sensei, but I think he has the greater incentive to lie here than does SEGA. It's pretty childish to lie about how much the game that bankrupted your company cost you to make just so you can get into the Guinness Book of World Records, so I doubt that's going on. And embezzlement on the scale of $30 million seems unlikely too -- surely that'd be caught and punished, no? Suzuki, on the other hand, witnessed his career essentially ruined by Shenmue's commercial failure, his reputation at SEGA down the toilet. So like ... for him to want to insist that the $45 million covered all costs -- not just development, but also marketing and publishing costs -- would seem to make more sense since it'd make his commercial blunder seem less bad.

But I like Suzuki-sensei. So let's roll with $45 million for now, shall we?

One factor first brought to my attention several weeks ago by YouTuber Adam Koralik was that the $45 million budget wasn't just for Shenmue 1 on the Dreamcast: it was for Shenmue 1 on the Sega Saturn (scrapped), Shenmue 1 on the Dreamcast, and Shenmue 2 on the Dreamcast. So it actually paid for the staff members of AM2 (Suzuki's development team while at SEGA) to work on Shenmue from around 1996 to around 2001. So whatever figure we're to arrive at in the end for Shenmue 1, we have to consider that the team's budget covered their working and living expenses for five to six years and on two to three different titles. (Shenmue 2 largely shares the same engine as Shenmue 1 but also amplifies the scope; Shenmue Saturn was aborted early on but was likely an entirely different engine made for an entirely different console; hence "two to three.")

Another factor that I believe Koralik raised in his video (may be mistaken here; if I am, then consider this my own pondering) was that Suzuki's Shenmue budget was what was tapped into for all the initial costs of research. Whether that was traveling to China, interviewing martial arts masters, or hitting the books at the local library, Shenmue and Shenmue II show enormous amounts of research painstakingly conducted by Team AM2. In applicable cases of traveling to China (think "when Disney traveled to Paris to prepare for Hunchback animation"), that would've cost a small fortune. Many real martial arts show up in the Shenmue games and they're not just paid lip service. For example, when Jianmin performs T'ai chi ch'uan in Lotus Park, his moves actually match the standard exercises of t'ai chi. I know: because I was taught these same foundational moves when I took a t'ai chi gym class a decade ago! It may not be as clear in Shenmue, where most of the fights consist of karate student Ryo taking on various thugs and street fighters, but in Shenmue II the difference between karate's rigidity + power and the fluidity + using your opponent's energy against him of Chinese martial arts is vividly apparent. If you're a content creator, you can't just sit back and admire this stuff like me. You have to actually do your homework. That takes time and money. Depending on who Suzuki interviewed, the costs could've ranged from nothing to tens of thousands of dollars (in travel & lodging costs).

When all's said and done, Shenmue 1 still cost an arm and a leg to make. But if Suzuki's $45 million claim is true, and if his claim that this included marketing and publishing costs too, then we can divide that figure crudely by 2 to arrive at $22 million in development costs; then if we divide it by 2 yet again to account for Shenmue Saturn, Shenmue, and Shenmue 2 all working with the same cash pool, we arrive at ~$11 million for just Shenmue. (I'm all but rounding Shenmue Saturn out of the equation, which may actually be unfair to Yu!) $11 million in 1997 dollars would be like $17 million today. ($100 back then is about $148 today.)

So we've reached $17 million as a guesstimate for Shenmue 1's budget costs. That still doesn't explain how Suzuki could hope to make Shenmue 3 on a shoestring budget of $2 million nor does it explain how he can promise that the game of our dreams could be made on just $11 million.

The New Budget: I think there's a degree of dishonesty from both sides in Shenmue 3's funding. On the one hand, you have the vocal fans (among them Mr. Koralik) who insist that Shenmue 3 is receiving absolutely no funding towards development, that any financial assistance being offered by Sony & Friends is going strictly towards publishing and marketing costs. On the other hand, you have scathing news editors who allege that this Kickstarter is defrauding diehard fans of their money and that the game is all but capable of being fully funded by Sony. So who's right? Well, I think that neither side is right.

I agree with the news editors that Shenmue 3 has to at least be receiving some financial assistance from Sony & Friends towards development costs. Why? Because the Kickstarter team admitted as much!

Originally Posted by Ys Net on Kickstarter
No, we cannot make an open world game for $2 million. Shenmue will be produced using both the funds raised from the Kickstarter and through other funding sources already secured by Ys Net Inc.

Having reached our funding goal, we are excited to say that the Shenmue story will go on, and Shenmue 3 will already be a sequel we can all be proud of. Like with any Kickstarter though, additional funding will only help us make a better game. Through the Stretch Goals, together, we can make this Shenmue even bigger, and just as revolutionary as the first two were.
While Koralik & others of my fellow fans could argue that Paragraph 1 is worded in just such a way as to allow for an interpretation that Yu is including costs of marketing and publishing when he says $2 million won't cut it, it's attached to Paragraph 2 which all but spells out that Yu (and/or whoever wrote this message) is thinking strictly in terms of development. "Additional funding will only help us make a better game." Lines like this make it sound like the first paragraph really means what you'd first read it to mean: "I can't code-make a great game on $2 million," and not "Well, I can code-make a great game for $2 million but I couldn't distribute-make a great game for $2 million."

So yes: simply put, I don't buy the reasoning that Sony's money is 100% going towards non-development costs. Even if Sony Corp.'s is, there could easily be a shell company into which Sony funnels money which is in turn funding Shenmue 3's costs of development -- so as to neither land Suzuki nor Sony in hot water for lying to Kickstarter funders.

However. On the other, very important hand ... I don't think that Sony is giving Suzuki much money for this Kickstarter, and zero of it risk-free. I imagine that they have probably offered him something along the lines of "for every dollar they put forward we'll match this many dollars." (Something like $2 Kickstarter : $1 Sony for lower tallies and $1 Kickstarter : $1 Sony for higher ones.) I also imagine that they've stressed to him that they want a return on their investment -- that the money given is at least partially a loan in nature, not fully a grant -- and thus he's best off securing as much money from the fans as possible. If you want proof that Sony isn't helping Suzuki out too much, look no further than:
  1. the fact that the Kickstarter did not initially include PS4 physical discs. Sony didn't want to be bothered with pressing a limited-run edition of Shenmue discs as that costs money. They were perfectly happy to offer a digital download of the game, though, especially since many gamers in the 2010s are shifting over from purchasing physical media to purchasing digital media. Although many KS funders begged for a PS4 disc from Day One -- and we currently see that over 6,000 people have pledged $60 just for the opportunity to own Shenmue 3 on physical disc for PS4 -- that still doesn't change the fact that a 10,000-disc limited run costs Sony money and that it took them two weeks to agree to add the option to the KS.
  2. Shuhei Yoshida, the President of Sony, contributed to the Kickstarter ... a meager $29. I say "meager" not to put any poor fans down, but because for a man of his wealth level and public image it seems awfully cheap to select the second-lowest funding tier you can go for. I understand that he might not want to rob diehard fans of the limited $10,000-tier items, but surely he can afford to donate $60 as a sign of confidence in Shenmue 3's viability on physical media! Surely! No? No, apparently. Because actions speak louder than words and he only donated $29. This is pretty telling about how much (or rather how little) Sony is helping fund Suzuki's development costs. Yes, they're okay with paying for publishing costs ... because they probably plan to have Shenmue 3 be digital-download-only anyway, so all they have to do is pay for the server bandwidth that they are already paying for. Yes, they're okay with advertising ... because that isn't going to be too hard in this day and age, especially not for a game of Shenmue's legendary status.
I'd put Sony's funding (all told) at $2 million to $3 million. It's something. But it sure as hell isn't enough to make Shenmue a reality. If you want the proof, it's simple: these days, people don't bet on risky investments anymore, Shenmue is a risky investment, and Sony's failure to fund Shenmue 3 out of the gate is proof that they had their concerns about the project's viability. Igarashi (Castlevania) had to turn to Kickstarter. Inafune (Mega Man) had to turn to Kickstarter. Now Suzuki (Virtua Fighter, Shenmue, a host of other non-Sonic games) had to turn to Kickstarter. The big development studios have gotten timid, betting either on rehashes of games from the 1980s and '90s or else betting on AAA titles like Assassin's Creed, Call of Duty, GTA, and the Souls series.

But put all of this aside for a moment, if you will -- because I oscillate pretty much every day as to whether I think Sony is half-funding this project or 0% funding it. ^^; I just don't know. It really comes down to trust and who to believe. So let's put all of that aside for now and just assume, for the sake of argument, that Sony is funding 0% of the cost of development. How then do we explain Suzuki's ability to make Shenmue 3 for $2 million to $11 million when Shenmue 1, by our armchair math, cost ~$17 million to develop?

The New Budget (con't): If you look at the stretch goals on the Kickstarter page, it becomes pretty apparent what sort of game Shenmue 3 is going to be depending on how much money Yu Suzuki gets:
  • For $2 million, he wouldn't have been able to give us "Shenmue." What he would have been able to give us was a 3-D adventure game called "Shenmue 3" where you get to enjoy the same plot and the same characters as he always intended but you had relatively little of the open-world environment that characterized the first two games, especially the first.
  • For middle amounts (e.g. $5.5 million), he would be able to give us a Shenmue 3 that reminds us of Shenmue 2. Same geographic scale (already promised @ $2 million) but now with the same level of open worldness as in 2. The combat would also be pretty similar to what you saw in 2 ... for better or worse. ^^; Clunky, old-fashioned even by 2001's standards. Sigh. But at least the plot and characters are there, and you can still do a lot of open world things just like in Shenmue 2!
  • For $10 million, he would be able to give us a Shenmue 3 that reminds us of Shenmue 1 in terms of open-worldness but Shenmue 2 in terms of geographic scale. Basically "the best of both worlds." It'd also have modern combat for a modern age: he'd completely overhaul the Virtua Fighter engine (probably even abandon it) and produce a fighting engine in UE4 that boasts some of the most realistic combat and intelligent A.I. we've ever seen. (These are actual KS goals in the $6 million to $8 million range! ) So you'd have a game that plays like Virtua Fighter 2015 (were such a thing to even exist) but that is draped in the clothes of an epic Chinese tale. Utterly sublime.
  • For $11 million, he'd modernize one of his crowning achievements as a software developer -- something called "Magic Maze" that he has talked about in the past.

    But [Suzuki] was up against the data compression technology of the time. To store the game he was building, 50 to 60 CD-ROMs would have been required.

    To work down the size, Suzuki and his team came up with several techniques. One of them, called Magic Maze, was created around the idea that seeds are easier to carry around than trees. Automated tree and forest generation examples were shown in the demonstration. For rooms, the Magic Room system worked as a unit-based form of compression, using data for objects normally placed in rooms to automatically construct them through a sort of simulated interior designer's eye.

    The idea behind the Magic Weather system is now common in games, but it was revolutionary for the time. Suzuki's team used simulations and historical data to generate changes in time, with appropriate lighting and weather displayed. They used three years of historical weather data starting from 1986 for the city of Yokosuka, making the weather in Shenmue historically accurate!
    Magic Maze already exists in Shenmue 2 and was used to create the forests of Guilin. Since Shenmue 3 will take place largely/entirely in the Chinese countryside, it will be integral to Shenmue 3's success. TBH, because of this reason I have my doubts that Suzuki will allow Magic Maze to die even if we fail to reach the $11 million mark. But my guess is that if we reach $11 million, he'll overhaul his old code for the UE4 era we now live in, just as for $8 million he'll overhaul the fighting engine.
This all sounds well and good, but I still haven't answered the question: "why is it $11 million and not $17 million? "

And so cutting to the chase, and making it very easy for you to find in case you got bored with my essay ...

I believe the answer is time.

Per our argument that Suzuki had $17 million to work on Shenmue 1, he also would have had a little less than 2 years to work on it. (Five to six years in total from 1996 to 2001, but you have to consider that some of that time would've been spent doing a lot of the initial legwork -- legwork he no longer has to do now that he has the story all written out, has already visited China and done his core research, etc.) By contrast, he has two and a half years to work on Shenmue 3 -- so six extra months -- and probably longer since we all know that Kickstarter times aren't absolute, delays in gaming development are common, and our culture is so used to such delays that we are incredibly forgiving of them. No one is going to begrudge Suzuki an extra six months to work on Shenmue 3. While that may mean people are on the clock an extra year than for Shenmue 1 (and thus cost more to feed), it also means that he has the luxury of relaxation, i.e. the luxury of not having to treat every day like it's goddamn Apollo 13. Throwing money at problems to brute force them away is all too common in all walks of life, from architectural repairs to IT work, from catering to flying transcontinental, and I can only imagine that it's the case for gaming development too. Three years might paradoxically be millions cheaper for the development costs than two years for the same amount of work done.

Another element of the time answer, but completely unrelated to the above, is how the costs of gaming development have changed over the years. In 1999, it really did cost tens of millions of dollars to make a game like Shenmue. But today? It reportedly cost the team that made The Witcher 3 anywhere from $10 million to $30 million to make their game. Many Shenmue fans have been quoting that lower figure. Let's roll with it for now. If it's true that you can make a Witcher 3 for just $10 million, then it reflects on how advances in technology (computer processing power, data storage, etc.) and laborer competency (skills, knowledge, tools, etc. that we didn't have in 1999) have drastically changed the playing field since when Suzuki pitched Shenmue to SEGA execs.

Long story short: I think it's a bit silly to get hung up on how much a project in the past cost. I'm not saying you shouldn't consider it. I'm just saying that there are lots of examples in life of something costs lots of money twenty years ago that today would cost nothing. Hard drives used to be smaller than 1 gigabyte, and now they're routinely larger than 1 terabyte for the same cost. Making a movie like Batman Begins would've been impossibly expensive in 1967 but was feasible in the 2000s. Mario 64 and Mario Galaxy probably had similar budgets with respect to Nintendo's gross or net revenues but obviously you could make a Mario 64 today for much, much cheaper than it cost to make in 1995. (Hell, you probably have college kids who make Mario 64 from scratch as junior/senior projects in CS!) I'm not trying to dismiss people out of hand for looking back at how much Shenmue cost to make, but like ... GTA5 cost $265 million to make. In 1999 terms, that's roughly $179 million. Which is anywhere from two ($70) to four ($47) times as expensive as the entire budget for Shenmue. Do we honestly expect GTA5 to cost $265 million to make in twenty years? With the advances we'll have in graphics and physics engines by then, it probably won't even cost $30 million to make.

Things change.
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